April-May 2007

In West Africa

In April - May, brothers of the Community made a series of visits in West Africa: Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria, with, among other events, a weekend with students at the Paul VI Centre, Cotounou, and a retreat at the Benedictine Monastery at Toffo. One of the brothers comes from Togo, and he was joined for two weeks by one of the brothers who live in the Taizé house at Dakar, Senegal.

In Ghana

“I was not able to send news from Togo because of electricity problems. But now I can see that in Togo we are not the only ones with energy problems! Here in Ghana it is the same thing, only, it is better organized. People know which days they will have electricity and which days they will not. So they can organize themselves accordingly. Today we had a meeting with over 1200 young people from the Diocese of Accra, for vocations day. They invited me to speak to all the young people and to the leaders of the deaneries. For some of the priests present, it is our songs that they learn in seminary…. I went with one of the priests to a mass at an out-station an hour away from Accra. It is a church still under construction, in a very lively village, with tam-tams. At the start there was a very beautiful procession. During the mass, from time to time they had to chase away the chickens trying to get into the choir. It was such a beautiful celebration!”

Patrick writes from The Ugandan Martyrs Parish, Lome, Togo, “Here in Lome we had a visit from the Taizé brothers. They shared so much with us, about the Community and the pilgrimage of trust on earth. I was very touched to watch their short DVD and to see young people from all over the world together n Taizé, in order to rekindle their faith inGod, the God of Abraham. And to see all these Christians together, from so many different churches.

Togo and Benin

From Dakar, Senegal: I have just come back from Togo and Benin…. They are twin countries, the same country in fact, but with a very different recent past. Many meetings took place in communities and churches.

In Benin, in the Fon ethnic group, there is an expression that says, “The foot makes the man”, i.e. going towards other people makes the man. There is true wisdom here, for contact between people is the way of communion. In a few words, the people of Benin expressed the meaning of our pilgrimage.

The first discovery to which that my “feet” led me was that of an astonishing welcome. In Benin, as in Togo, you welcome people by saying, “Good arrival!” And this is no mere formality. These people know what it means to be thirsty. So the first words of greeting are kept to their simplest expression. You are asked to sit down and very quickly water is served. Water quenches your thirst and puts you at ease. It confirms that you have “arrived well”. Then the “good arrival” is said over again, and you greet one another and embrace again, but this time unhurriedly, looking at each other and with hearty handshakes.

Touched by these gestures of welcome, I asked many questions about this “water ritual” and I discovered that so many key moments of the life are sanctioned by water: welcoming others, the resolution of conflicts, contracts, forgiveness… In these times when the means of expression tend to level out human relations, Africa, continent of the “palaver”, can remind us that human beings develop not only through words, but also through simple gestures, and strong symbols.

The “foot” made us discover so many institutions and communities which sustain a hope… Young people from Cotonou, after a stay in Taizé, understood that the local Church was expecting them and that their singing and their service could give life to their parish communities. Their songs are those of Taizé, some adapted to the local languages, but others were composed by themselves, always with strong biblical and spiritual content. Nothing superficial. Their strong point is their music and song.

…. I discovered the Ayodele Project. In ten years, what began as a small breeding station of 300 chickens has developed into a beautiful farm where sheep with hanging ears and no horns rub shoulders with little goats, pigs, zebus and several thousands poultry and enormous rabbits… The central dwelling and breeding area is surrounded by 30 hectares of beautiful land with maize, pineapples, manioc and a teak plantation. Today, the original family has been joined by several others; all the children go to the school in the nearby village. This splendid farm is a survivor from among many others that were financed by the “European Development Fund” ten years ago. It has succeeded thanks to the know-how of one couple, supported by young people who are “out to win”.

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